Manipulating mtDNA in vivo reprograms metabolism via novel response mechanisms

Diana Bahhir, Cagri Yalgin, Liina Ots, Sampsa Jarvinen, Jack George, Alba Naudi, Tatjana Krama, Indrikis Krams, Mairi Tamm, Ana Andjelkovic, Eric Dufour, Jose M. Gonzalez de Cozar, Mike Gerards, Mikael Parhiala, Reinald Pamplona, Howard T. Jacobs, Priit Joers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mitochondria have been increasingly recognized as a central regulatory nexus for multiple metabolic pathways, in addition to ATP production via oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). Here we show that inducing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) stress in Drosophila using a mitochondrially-targeted Type I restriction endonuclease (mtEcoBI) results in unexpected metabolic reprogramming in adult flies, distinct from effects on OXPHOS. Carbohydrate utilization was repressed, with catabolism shifted towards lipid oxidation, accompanied by elevated serine synthesis. Cleavage and translocation, the two modes of mtEcoBI action, repressed carbohydrate rmetabolism via two different mechanisms. DNA cleavage activity induced a type II diabetes-like phenotype involving deactivation of Akt kinase and inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase, whilst translocation decreased post-translational protein acetylation by cytonuclear depletion of acetyl-CoA (AcCoA). The associated decrease in the concentrations of ketogenic amino acids also produced downstream effects on physiology and behavior, attributable to decreased neurotransmitter levels. We thus provide evidence for novel signaling pathways connecting mtDNA to metabolism, distinct from its role in supporting OXPHOS.

Author summary

Mitochondria, subcellular compartments (organelles) found in virtually all eukaryotes, contain DNA which is believed to be a remnant of an ancestral bacterial genome. They are best known for the synthesis of the universal energy carrier ATP, but also serve as the hub of various metabolic and signalling pathways. We report here that mtDNA integrity is linked to a signaling system that influences metabolic fuel selection between fats and sugars. By disrupting mtDNA in the fruit fly we induced a strong shift towards lipid catabolism. This was caused both by a widespread decrease in post-translational acetylation of proteins, as well as specific inhibition of the machinery that transports glucose into cells across the plasma membrane. This phenomenon is very similar to the pathophysiology of diabetes, where the inability to transport glucose to cells is considered the main hallmark of the disease. Moreover, decreased protein acetylation was associated with lower levels of certain neurotransmitters, causing various effects on feeding and fertility. Our discovery reveals an unexpected role for mtDNA stability in regulating global metabolic balance and suggests that it could be instrumental in pandemic metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1008410
Number of pages31
JournalPlos Genetics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019



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